Thursday, May 24, 2012

A Song of the Past: Installment Ten

(Previous installment.)

Wednesday, Oct. 22, 9:00 AM
When Deirdre reached police headquarters the morning after she had met Juanita, the first task she set herself was to learn more about how the Internet could be used to explore the hunch she had adopted about her case. Therefore, she made a beeline for the computer department, where she found her friend Srinivas in his cubicle, lost from the world in contemplation of a computer screen filled with arcane code. She waited until she sensed a break in his focus, and then, after emitting a light cough, she said, “Srinivas, good morning. Can you help me with something?”

“Yes, Detective Deirdre.” Some months before she had told him to call her  “Deirdre,” rather than
“Detective O’Reilly,” but Srinivas had only been able to meet her request halfway.

“You’ve been telling me that I have been remiss in not embracing the Internet. I think your message is finally getting through to me. For instance, right now, I’m very anxious to learn if the Internet is a good place to search for information on secret societies?”

Srinivas leaned back in his chair and chuckled, while theatrically placing one hand on his forehead.
“Oh goodness, the Internet is quite well stocked with conspiracy theories concerning secret societies, not to mention merely descriptive or scholarly sites addressing that topic. If that is your current interest, the main problem will be to sift out the minority of sites it will be worth your time to examine from all of the rubbish that is out there. So let’s see what we can do” He spun his chair around to the computer behind him. “We’re going to the Google web site to start our search. It is a new site, but quite good, I think.” He typed something in a little box, and the screen changed. “This is the box where we type the text to describe the sort of information we wish to find. Here I could just type in ‘secret society,’ but I am afraid we will be overwhelmed by the result. Can you think of any further criteria that might narrow down your search?”

“Well, maybe secret societies in New Haven, or even in Connecticut.”

“Let us try New Haven and secret society first. If that proves unsatisfactory, the search can always be broadened by us later.”

He typed those words interspersed with some punctuation and then clicked his mouse on a button labeled “Google Search.” After a couple of seconds the screen refreshed to display Google’s response to the query.

“Detective Deirdre, we must refine our search much further—our first effort has returned to us roughly ten thousand pages which are possibly of relevance. What else might we add to narrow this down somewhat?”

Deirdre thought of the tie tack and shoe print, and said, “Try adding ‘elite.’”

Srinivas did so, and then replied, “Well, at least we are down to three thousand now. That is quite a few, but perhaps more manageable. Let me show you how to view them. This software that you are now using is a browser. Its workings are really quite simple. When you see some text appearing in blue, like here”—he touched the computer screen with his finger to indicate what ‘here’ meant—“you can click with the mouse on that item with the left button. That will transport you to the location of the document referenced.”

Deirdre thought it would be preferable if the document came to the location where she was, but then she decided that must be what Srinivas really meant, since she was fairly certain that the Internet didn’t yet offer teleportation services.

He continued: “Now, when you want to return to this list of search results, you click on this button that says ‘Back.’ Since some of the documents your search finds will reference other documents, you may have to click on it several times, but eventually, you will find yourself returned to this spot.”
Well, at least she could get back to headquarters if she needed to.

After a minute or so of watching Deirdre experiment with “the Web,” Srinivas told her that she could use his computer until she felt comfortable proceeding without a tutor close at hand, and then he turned his attention to the other workstation in his cubicle, where he commenced upon an energetic bout of typing.

Although it took Deirdre a little while to get the hang of “browsing,” she soon decided that it was really quite easy, a shift of viewpoint that recognized as characteristic of her encounters with new technology. At first, she tended to regard successful use of such novelties as an extremely arcane skill that could only be mastered by select initiates. However, if she was able to ignore the sense that her efforts to join those chosen few were predestined to fail, she suddenly would see that she had erected the insurmountable barrier blocking her understanding all by herself, at which point the obstacle would melt away. Once she had grasped the basics of Web navigation, she began rapidly to scan through the various documents unearthed by her search, occasionally going further and examining the web pages referenced in her primary results. After what was probably only twenty minutes of reading, although it felt like hours, the monotonous nature of the texts appearing was draining away the optimistic energy with which she had tackled this avenue of research. She began to wonder if most of the vehicles traveling on the much-vaunted “information superhighway” were using it to deliver shipments of nutty conspiracy theories. On one web site after another she met Freemasons, Jewish bankers, the Bavarian Illuminati, the Knights Templar, the Trilateral Commission, the World Bank, the IMF, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Jesuits—seemingly all of them had combined forces and were secretly ruling the world, or at least they were on the verge of realizing their elaborate plans for doing so. Deirdre longed to ask the authors of these pages just why, given the hidden masters’ immense power and preternatural ability to discretely steer human history along the paths they had chosen for it, did they allow all of these powerless people to natter on about them so? Perhaps that was just another element in their grand design. And not only did almost everything she had read strike her as the product of lonely, poorly adjusted forty-year-old bachelors who found it less disturbing that they were still living in their parents’ basement if the cause was not their own shortcomings but a vast, global conspiracy, what was even more discouraging was that none of their ranting appeared to cast any light on the provenance of her tie tack or the identity of her murderer. True, she had learned that Ammon and Apollos Augur, descended from Robert Augur, one of the founders of the New Haven Colony, were both Freemasons, but it was hard to see how that could be relevant to her case, as they both had been dead for over two hundred years.

She was on the verge of giving up when she came across a web page, called “Conspiracy or Coincidence,” introducing a new player into the game: The Skull and Bones Society. She thought she recognized the name as that of a Yale fraternity, so she followed the link and plunged in deeper.
Well, she stood corrected. It turned out that Skull and Bones was a Yale senior-only society, not an ordinary frat. It had been founded in 1833, by William Huntington Russell and Alphonso Taft. According to the Web page she had found Skull and Bones was Chapter 322 of a German secret society. There were a few similar societies at Yale—Scroll & Key, Wolf’s Head, and Book & Snake—but the influence of those others paled compared to that of Skull and Bones.
Deirdre stopped looking at the computer and stared at a blank wall across the room. Something she had just read was tickling her memories. What was the source of the itch? A number? 1833? No, 322! She had seen ‘322’ inscribed on the side of the tie tack! Of course she’d have to confirm her recollection, but her confidence that she was on the right track was raised. As a consequence, she turned her attention back to her research with her initial enthusiasm for the endeavor restored.
The author of this web page adamantly asserted that the fundamental rai·son d'être of the Skull and Bones society was to ready members of the WASP warrior caste for their future destiny as the secret rulers of the world. The key evidence for his claim was a roll call of notable figures who had been inducted into the group when they had been Yale undergrads: Averell Harriman, of Brown Brothers Harriman; Henry Stimson, Roosevelt’s Secretary of War during World War II; John Chafee, senator from Rhode Island; the writer and publisher of National Review, William F. Buckley, Jr.; Prescott Bush, US Senator and an investment banker at Brown Brothers Harriman; Prescott’s son, George Bush, recently the American commander-in-chief; his son, George W. Bush, the current Governor of Texas; former US President William Howard Taft; Massachusetts senator John Kerry; Morgan Stanley founder Howard Stanley; Archer Daniels Midland founder John Thomas Daniels; and Robert Lovett, who had a hand in appointing much of John Kennedy’s cabinet and also had been a banker at Brown Brothers Harriman.

What a lineup, Deirdre thought. Skull and Bones was to secret societies what the Chicago Bulls were to basketball teams or Blind Faith was to rock groups, but it was headquartered right here in New Haven. Hooked by that mix of global significance and local color, she felt compelled to read further. She learned that each year fifteen Yale juniors, all male, were “tapped” by the seniors then in the society on “inauguration night,” and that the nominees had to accept or decline the offer of membership on the spot. Anyone who agreed to join immediately was escorted to Skull and Bones’ private “crypt” on the Yale campus, to undergo the group’s initiation ceremony, which rumors suggested required the initiates to disrobe and lie down in a coffin, among other such shenanigans.
Reaching the end of the Skull and Bones saga, she followed a link to the site’s home page and proceeded to peruse some of the creator’s other offerings. Within a few minutes she concluded that his medications must have been working particularly well when he wrote the Skull and Bones material. For instance, another essay he presented argued that it was only due to the duplicity of professional mathematicians that average people swallowed the absurd proposition that multiplying zero by any other number always produced zero as a result. He also assured his readers that William F. Buckley, Ronald Reagan, and other establishment luminaries gathered in the woods of California as members of the “Bohemian Grove,” where, among other depravities, they indulged themselves by buggering comely young boys. When she came upon a page contending that all of twentieth century physics was a vast hoax she decided that enough was enough.

She nudged her cube-mate and asked him, “Srinivas, how do I do another search?”

“Ah, that would be most simple.” He spun his chair around so that he faced the computer she was using. “You just find this box on the Google page, type there the topics for which you desire to search, and then click your mouse on the ‘Submit’ button.”

Deirdre, trying to follow his instructions, entered “Skull and Bones” in the space Srinivas had indicated, only to meet with disapproval.

“No, no, Detective Deirdre, that will generate far too many irrelevant results. You must place the search string in quotes.”


“Put a quotation mark before the phrase and another after it.”

Deirdre didn’t understand exactly why that was necessary, but nevertheless she did as she was told. Google returned roughly 7000 pages it judged might be of interest to her. She scanned the results trying to detect the most promising candidates from among the host of contenders for her attention. The first item that grabbed her interest was entitled “An Illuminati Outline of History.” Upon examination, the selection of events comprising the outline struck her as somewhat arbitrary. For instance, the entry under the heading “1937” read: “Spanish Civil War begins. First of 48 'Lost Colony' stones found in North Carolina; stones supposedly tell the story of the lost Roanoke Island colony. Amelia Earhart Putnam, aviator, disappears.”

Was the text implying that the Illuminati had started the Spanish Civil War? That they had placed the ‘Lost Colony’ stones? That they had abducted Amelia Earhart? Perhaps they had abducted Amelia Earhart and launched the Spanish Civil War because someone had found the stones? Deirdre imagined that for someone versed enough in the art of interpreting history by way of conspiracies the connections would be “obvious.”

A Japanese site she visited expanded upon the significance of Skull and Bones, highlighting the New England Puritan background of many of the members, and claiming that the society actually was a branch of English Freemasonry. Another page traced the society’s roots to the “Old Wealth Puritan—Jewish alliance which was created as a result of the Cromwellian Revolution.” She found an answer to her puzzle about why our elite masters would allow so many of their subjects to prattle on about them at such length: it was actually a component of their grand plan, since the existence of numerous implausible and incompatible conspiracy theories served to discredit even those accounts that came dangerously close to the truth, thereby sowing confusion among the masses. Sowing confusion was apparently a key tactic of the elite—George H. Bush, for instance, employed it heavily in his foreign policy, especially during the Gulf War. My, she thought, the members of the elite were clever actors! If there was one man Deirdre would have sworn was genuinely confused, it was Bush.
At length she came upon a link to a page that claimed to offer to the most comprehensive public listing of living Skull and Bones members. Enticed by the hope of finally discovering concrete leads to pursue, she followed the link. While she waited for the promised bounty to appear on her monitor, she tried to estimate the size of her jackpot by multiplying the number of inductees per year by the number of years one might expect them to survive: fifteen by maybe fifty—should be in the neighborhood of 750. Once loaded, the listing turned out to contain about six hundred names. And not only did she now have names for her suspects, but the site also provided the current address for many of the Bonesmen. That enabled her to select a small subset of the entire list as prime candidates for her attention, for although it was certainly possible the killer she sought might have traveled from out of town to commit his crime, it would make sense to first look at members currently living in the New Haven area.

Deirdre began to worry that fortune was setting her up for a fall when she realized that the great majority of the society’s members had moved away from the area after graduating from Yale. There were quite a few still living in Connecticut, but mostly in places like Greenwich, Darien, New Canaan, Wilton, Westport, Sharon, and Kent: the enclaves of the upper crust. In the immediate vicinity of New Haven, she saw only one address in Woodbridge, one in Guilford, and two in New Haven itself.

She wrote down the names and addresses of those four Bonesmen: Reid Thompson, Hunt Holton, Harrison Tyler, and Charles Wu. It struck her that ‘Wu’ didn’t seem like a very WASPish name, but she supposed that these days WASP was more a frame of mind than it was a genetic inheritance.
Srinivas guided her effort to look up the first of the four locals on the Internet, after which she felt capable of handling the others on her own. The queries for information about Thompson and Holton yielded nothing that appeared to be relevant. Wu, on the other hand, maintained a personal Web page hosted by the Yale Computer Science Department, where he was a professor specializing in artificial intelligence. Wu’s research had been published in many academic journals, and his home page consisted mostly of links to that work. Deirdre surveyed the titles of his papers, and while she didn’t want to prematurely write off any potential leads, she couldn’t help but suspecting that essays with names like “Neural Networks and Cognitive Dissonance: A Heuristic Approach” would not help her solve her case.

Her search on Tyler produced several links to stories in The New York Times and The New Haven Register, and one to a page at the Web site of Brown Brothers Harriman. The latter captured her attention, since the firm seemed to be the official Skull and Bones investment bank. Following the link, she discovered that Tyler was the company’s Managing Director for International Investment Banking, and that he had been an employee since receiving his MBA from Wharton almost two decades ago. From there she proceeded to a page sketching the firm’s history. Brown Brothers had been founded by some Micks in 1810. Merged with Harriman during the Great Depression. Offices in Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Luxembourg, Dublin, and Grand Cayman, the last of which she fancied to be the very place where the lawyers in The Firm had laundered money for the mob.
She next perused the newspaper articles, finding that, with the single exception of a brief notice in the business section of The Times announcing Tyler’s appointment to the Managing Director position at Brown Brothers Harriman, they all were about the shocking murder, last October, of Tyler’s wife. Deirdre had moved into the homicide department well after the investigation of that crime had been shelved due to the absence of any promising leads, but she still remembered the buzz it had generated throughout the force and in the local press.

The first of the articles about the crime, from The Times, said that Evelyn Tyler’s body had been found in her own car, robbed and shot, at the east end of Chapel Street. No, Deirdre thought, it was really too much, as if some god of detection was dropping clues before her like manna from heaven. Could it be that Tyler lured Moore to the very spot where Evelyn had been killed? Deirdre read on, and learned that Mrs. Tyler had been seen shopping in downtown New Haven during the morning of the day she had perished, and that the police believed her shopping trip had been aborted by a car jacker, who forced her to drive to a desolate section of the city. The patron saint of detectives appeared to be showering her with his blessings again: car-jacking was Moore’s prior! The unknown robber left Evelyn’s credit cards in her purse, taking only her cash and jewelry. The story noted that the victim, in addition to having been Tyler’s wife of twenty-five years, had been the owner of an upscale Westville antique shop, and leading figure in several New Haven charities.

The New York media seemed to have lost interest at that point, and all of the follow-up stories were from the New Haven Register. If they were accurate, then the NHPD investigation of the murder had never even produced a plausible suspect. Of course, Harrison Tyler had been questioned and his movements that day examined in detail; although he produced no alibi, he had no obvious motive to kill his wife, and the investigators had turned up no evidence incriminating him. The police were confident about their hypothesis that Evelyn had been abducted, and Tyler offered a significant reward for any leads that proved fruitful, but no witness to the event ever stepped forward.
Deirdre finished the last of the articles, which had been published about six months after the killing, and leaned back in her borrowed chair, so lost in thought that she placed her feet on Srinivas's desk without the least consideration of what he might make of that liberty. She wondered if it was possible that Harrison Tyler had decided to go Charles Bronson on his wife's killer? She couldn’t rule out the possibility, but her gut told her that the real course of events had been more complicated than such a simple storyline. As she gazed up past the fluorescent lights and acoustic tiles over her head, she became aware that she was under scrutiny. She snapped her head back to level and found Srinivas regarding her with a mixture of deference and unease.

Having gained her attention, he said, as if merely commenting on some impersonal matter like a shift in the weather, "Detective Deirdre, I am sure it is only due to your absorption in your work, but your shoes are in my work area."

Deirdre apologized with great sincerity, rose from her seat, and told Srinivas that she had taken advantage of his kindness for far too long. As she departed she looked at her watch: 11:07. She was determined to meet Harrison Tyler very soon, and gauge for herself if he was the sort of person to engage in a vendetta.

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